The busy Romans needed a mid-winter break too … and it lasted for 24 days

This was originally appeared on The Conversation and is written by Dr Richard Flowers, Senior Lecturer in Classics and Ancient History, University of Exeter.

In the Doctor Who Christmas Special from 2010, Michael Gambon’s Scrooge-like character remarks that across different cultures and worlds people come together to mark the midpoint of winter. It is, he imagines, as if they are saying: “Well done, everyone! We’re halfway out of the dark!”

The actual reasons for celebrating Christmas at this particular time in the year have long been debated. Links have often been drawn to the winter solstice and the Roman festival of Saturnalia. Some people have also associated it with the supposed birthday of the god Sol Invictus, the “unconquered sun”, since a fourth-century calendar describes both this and Christ’s birth as taking place on December 25.

Such speculation has inevitably led to claims that this traditionally Christian festival is little more than a rebranding of earlier pagan activities. But questions about the “religious identity” of public celebrations are, in fact, nothing new and were being asked in the later periods of the Roman empire as well.

This is particularly evident in the case of a rather obscure Roman festival called the Brumalia, which started on November 24 and lasted for 24 days. We cannot be sure exactly when it began to be celebrated, but one of our best accounts of it comes from the sixth century AD. A retired public official called John the Lydian explained that it had its origins in earlier pagan rites from this time of year, including Saturnalia.

Some people celebrated Brumalia by sacrificing goats and pigs, while devotees of the god Dionysus inflated goat skins and then jumped on them. We also believe that each day of the festival was assigned a different letter of the Greek alphabet, starting with alpha (α) on November 24 and finishing with omega (ω) on December 17.

A person would wait until the day that corresponded to the first letter of their own name and then throw a party. This meant that those with a wide circle of friends – and, in particular, friends with a wide variety of names – might potentially get to go to 24 consecutive celebrations.

We also have other evidence for the popularity of the Brumalia during the sixth century. A speech by the orator Choricius of Gaza praises the festivities laid on by the emperor Justinian (527–565), remarking that the emperor and his wife, Theodora, celebrated the Brumalia on adjacent days, since the letter iota (ι) – for Justinian – directly follows theta (θ) – for Theodora – in the Greek alphabet. Surviving accounts from the cellars of a large estate in Egypt also detail the wine distributions to officials and servants for the Brumalia of the master, Apion, which fell on the first day of the festival.

Yet, the origins of the Brumalia are far from clear. It seems to have been related to the earlier Roman Bruma festival, which took place on a single day in November and looked ahead to the winter solstice (or bruma in Latin) a month later, but little is known about this.

It is only really from the sixth century onwards that it appears in surviving sources, even though by then most Romans were Christians and had been ruled by Christian emperors for more than two centuries. John the Lydian also states that the “name day” aspect of the celebrations was a recent innovation at this time. As far as we can tell, therefore, this was not merely a remnant from a distant pagan past, but had actually developed and grown at precisely the same time as emperors, including Justinian, were endeavouring to clamp down on perceived “paganism” in their empire.

The historian Roberta Mazza, in one of the most comprehensive modern discussions of the festival, has argued that the Brumalia was simply too popular to get rid of entirely, but that Justinian sought to strip it of “pagan” elements. She says that in doing so, the emperor “reshaped and reinvented the meanings and purposes of the feast” and made it “both acceptable from a religious point of view and useful for constructing a common cultural identity throughout the different provinces of the empire”.

The true meaning of Brumalia

We know that the Brumalia continued to be celebrated at the imperial court in Constantinople until at least the tenth century, but it was certainly not without its opponents. John the Lydian reports that the church was opposed to the Brumalia, and similar statements of disapproval and attempts to ban it were also made by church councils in 692 and 743. For some Christians, it remained just too pagan for comfort. Controversy also surrounded other celebrations in late antiquity, including the wearing of masks at New Year, the Roman Lupercalia (with its naked runners), and the processions and dancing involved in the “Bean Festival” at Calama in North Africa.

How then should we view the Brumalia? Was it still essentially “pagan”, or had it become safely Christianised or secularised? I think that any attempt to neatly categorise these festivals, let alone their participants, is destined to fail. For some people, the religious elements will have loomed larger, while for others they will have been almost entirely irrelevant, as also happens with Christmas today.

The Brumalia could be celebrated in a variety of ways and have a multitude of meanings to different people throughout the empire, even if all of them saw themselves as Christians. Rather than arguing that Justinian or others who enjoyed the Brumalia were “less Christian” than its opponents, we might instead treat it as a vivid illustration of the fluidity and malleability of notions of culture and identity.

We cannot ever discover the true meaning of Brumalia, but we can be sure that it brought people together to commemorate being halfway out of the dark.

Social Media, Outreach, and Your Thesis

Ever wondered about the benefits of social media and public outreach for your thesis? Matt Knight presents some of his experiences and why he thinks everyone should be trying it.

It’s been hectic few weeks in which I have inadvertently immersed myself in the world of public engagement, outreach, social media, and everything in between. Two years ago I would have had no idea what I was doing – for the most part I still don’t! But I thought I’d try and tie some of my incessant thoughts together about why I’ve bothered trying to engage with the complexities of social media and general public outreach and its overall benefit to me and my thesis.

To give you some background, I’ve been using social media (Twitter and Facebook mainly) and blogging about my research since I started my PhD two years ago. It started as a way to help my mum understand what I do (a problem I think most us have encountered!), while also giving me an avenue for processing some of my thoughts in an informal environment, without the fear of academic persecution that comes with a conference. I coupled this with helping out on the odd public engagement gig.

It’s safe to say this has steamrolled somewhat, as four weeks ago I found myself sat in a conference workshop dedicated entirely to Social Media and its benefits for research, and two weeks ago I was one of four on a communications and networking panel for Exeter’s Doctoral College to offer information and advice on communicating their research. This has been intermitted with a presentation of my semi-scientific archaeological research to artists, as well as educating a class of 10/11 year olds, alongside teaching undergrads. To top it all off, last weekend, I inadvertently became the social media secretary of a national archaeological group.

presenting to primary school kids

– A picture of me nervously stood in front a class of 10 year olds!

As you read this, please be aware, I don’t consider myself an expert in this field whatsoever. I have 300+ followers on Twitter, 230ish on Facebook, 40ish followers on my blog and minimal training in public engagement – these are not impressive facts and figures. Much of what I’ve done is self-taught and there are much better qualified people who could be writing a post such as this. And yet, I want to make clear that the opportunities, experiences, and engagements I’ve had are beyond anything I could have hoped for.

alifeinfragments facebook page

– A screenshot of the Facebook page I established to promote my research

A lot of this stems from the belief that there is no point doing what I do – what many of you reading this also do – if no one knows or cares about it. From the beginning of undertaking my PhD, I knew I wanted to make my research relevant. For an archaeologist, or indeed, any arts and humanities student, this can be difficult. Every day can be a battle with the ultimate question plaguing many of us:

What’s the point?

Social media and general outreach events are a great way to get to grips with this and have certainly kept me sane on more than one occasion. Last year I participated in the University’s Community Day, in which members of the public were able to attend and see the ongoing research at what is such an inherent part of their city. That day was one of the most exhausting and exhilarating days of my PhD thus far.

Archaeology Community Day

– Myself and a fellow PhD researcher setting up for Exeter’s Community Day 2015

But then, 6 non-stop hours of presenting your research to nearly 2000 people will do that to you.

It will also help you gain perspective on the value of what you do. Children are particularly unforgiving – if they don’t think something is interesting or matters, they will let you know. The key I’ve found is to work out one tiny bit of your research that people can relate to or find interesting and hammer that home.

This rings true of outreach and engagement events, whether that’s to academics outside of your specialist field, or a room full of restless 10 year olds.

Where I’ve had my most success by far though has been online. My minimal online numbers inevitably stem from my niche field (i.e. Bronze Age metalwork), and yet it’s attracted the right people online. Through Twitter and Facebook I am in regular contact with some of the leading experts in my field, without the formality of “clunky” emails. They retweet and share pictures of what I’m doing. They ask me questions. They share ideas with me.

I’ve recently found out that my blog has become a source of reference for several upcoming publications. This is huge in a competitive academic world where getting yourself known matters.

alifeinfragments blog page

– A screenshot of my blog site where I summarise lots of my ongoing research

Beyond this, you’d be amazed what members of the public might contribute to your thesis. So many of my ideas have come from discussions with people who have general archaeological interests, wanting to know more, and asking questions that have simply never crossed my mind.

I’m not going to lie – maintaining this sort of approach is time-consuming and exposing. It’s something that needs to be managed, and needs careful consideration. You need to be prepared that it opens you up to criticism from a wide audience and can add another nag to the back of your already stressed mind. But I know without a doubt my PhD experience, and indeed my research, would be weaker without it.

This blog post has inevitably been largely anecdotal, and by no means explores all of the possibilities open to you. But hopefully it might encourage a couple of you to think about the benefits of engaging with outreach events (there are hundred on offer through the university), as well as turning social media from a form of procrastination into a productive avenue.


Matt Knight is a PhD researcher in Archaeology studying Bronze Age metalwork. He frequently posts about his research and can be followed on Twitter @mgknight24.


 

Coat Tales

In 1853, the blacksmith Joshua Payge of Buckland Brewer, Devon, married Ann Cole. He arrived for his wedding in his best waistcoat, a garment made from Manchester cotton velvet – swirls of blue patterning over a deep red ground.  From its style and manufacture we are able to date the waistcoat back to the 1830s, and might deduce from this fact that it had been handed down to Joshua by his father.  The enamel buttons down the front are a later, joyful addition: tiny flowers of red, white and blue enamel.  From such customization, from the stains and the stitching we are able to turn the waistcoat from an item of clothing to a record that provides us with clues as to what it means to be human.

Coat Tales: The Stories Clothes Tell was a collaborative workshop designed to explore objects such as this and to consider the kinds of stories they tell. It was run by Shelley Tobin, assistant curator of Dress and Textiles at RAMM, Dr Tricia Zakreski, lecturer in Victorian Studies, Heather Hind, postgraduate student in Exeter’s English department, and me, Jane Feaver, lecturer in Creative Writing.  We share a fascination for objects – whether from a historical-practical, a literary-aesthetic, or a fictional-creative point of view – and wanted to investigate the synergies and ramifications in bringing those three enthusiasms together.

Between us we had identified three items from the museum holdings, which we’d selected for their resonance in terms of key moments in a life: Payne’s wedding waistcoat, an eighteenth-century pair of baby’s linen mittens worn by the donor’s “dear father” on his christening day, and a Victorian mourning necklace woven from the hair of the donor’s mother, and worn with a cross as testament to her memory.IMG_0044

– Dr Tricia Zakreski examining objects

Our event was split into three parts. The first part was led by Shelley, who gave the workshop participants a practical, fashion-curator’s view of the objects in hand, which we were able to see and experience at close quarters.  What questions do we ask of an object? How is it constructed? What does this tell us about the date it was made, the sort of person who would have worn it, the way the item was worn? What stories do particular stains or other features of wearing tell? Armed with pencils and notebooks participants were encouraged to take down their observations, which included drawing particular details of the item – stitching, pattern, texture…

The next part of our workshop aimed to give body and life to these objects – all of which, at over 150 years old, might have appeared a little arcane.  We wanted to show how they moved and operated ordinarily in the world.  Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens, George Egerton, Emily Bronte and Wilkie Collins supplied wonderful examples for us: We found a blacksmith in Joe Gargery, dressed to the nines on his wedding day to Biddy; a maid’s revelation to her pregnant mistress of the baby clothes she treasures in a red-painted deal box; a letter from Wilkie Collins’ Hide and Seek, which details the making of a hair bracelet. How does our understanding of the objects change? How does our impression of the text alter, having embraced the physical presence of similar objects?

The last part of the workshop involved us thinking about any of the three objects as cues to writing our own stories.  Using the letter in Hide and Seek as a model, participants were asked to write a letter to an intimate friend describing their chosen object, and thinking about what function the object played in the scene they are about to relate, and what emotion drove the relating… In ten minutes, there was not a sound in the room but the industrious beavering of pencil leads.  Everyone managed a story – some, pages of story! – and as we read around the room, each story exposed some moment in a human life suffuse with the emotion that arises from close attention to detail at such life-changing moments – birth, marriage, death; how the memory of one moment often lies buried in another.

The workshop was an experiment.  The participants, we were clear from the start, were our lab rats.  They didn’t appear to mind.  Someone said out loud how helpful it had been to have this three-pronged approach: that by the time it came to writing for themselves, how much easier it made the task.  Each of us during the course of that afternoon, I think, learned something more about what it means to be human: why we value and invest in certain things, how we use particular objects to embody our memories and our stories, and, conversely, how we can get objects not personally connected to us to offer up their novel stories to us.


Dr Jane Feaver is a Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Exeter.


 

Medieval women can teach us how to smash gender rules and the glass ceiling

This post originally appeared on The Conversation. The post is written by Laura Kalas Williams, Postdoctoral researcher in medieval literature and medicine and Associate Tutor at the University of Exeter.

On the night of the US election, Manhattan’s magisterial, glass-encased Javits Centre stood with its ceiling intact and its guest-of-honour in defeated absence. Hillary Clinton – who has frequently spoken of “the highest, hardest glass ceiling” she was attempting to shatter – wanted to bring in a new era with symbolic aplomb. As supporters despaired in that same glass palace, it was clear that the symbolism of her defeat was no less forceful.

People wept, hopes were dashed, and more questions were raised about just what it will take for the most powerful leader on the planet to one day be a woman. Hillary Clinton’s staggering experience and achievements as a civil rights lawyer, first lady, senator and secretary of state were not enough.

The double-standards of gender “rules” in society have been disconcertingly evident of late. The Clinton campaign said FBI director James Comey’s handling of the investigation into Clinton’s private server revealed “jaw-dropping” double standards. Trump, however, lauded him as having “guts”. When no recriminating email evidence was found, Trump ran roughshod over the judicial process, claiming: “Hillary Clinton is guilty. She knows it. The FBI knows it, the people know it.” Chants of “lock her up” resonated through the crowd at a rally.

Mob-like cries for a woman to be incarcerated without evidence or trial? That’s medieval.

The heart of a king

Since time immemorial, women have manipulated gender constructs in order to gain agency and a voice in the political milieu. During her speech to the troops at Tilbury, anticipating the invasion of the Spanish Armada, Elizabeth I famously claimed:

I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too.


Elizabeth I, The Ditchley Portrait, c. 1592, National Portrait Gallery. Elizabeth stands upon England, and the top of the world itself. Her power and domination are symbolised by the celestial sphere hanging from her left ear. The copious pearls represent her virginity and thus maleness. Wikimedia Commons

Four hundred years later, Margaret Thatcher seemed obliged to follow the same approach, employing a voice coach from the National Theatre to help her to lower her voice. And Clinton told a rally in Ohio: “Now what people are focused upon is choosing the next president and commander-in-chief.” Not a million miles away from the kingly-identifications of Elizabeth, the pseudo-male “Virgin Queen”.

This gender-play has ancient origins. In the late fourth century AD, St Jerome argued that chaste women become male. Likewise, the early Christian non-canonical Gospel of Thomasclaimed that Jesus would make Mary “male, in order that she also may become a living spirit like you males”.


15th century ‘Disease Woman’. Wellcome Collection, MS Wellcome Apocalypse 49, f.38r.

By the Middle Ages, this idea of female bodily inferiority became material as well as spiritual as medical texts on the topic proliferated. Women’s bodies were considered inferior and more prone to disease. Because of the interiority of female anatomy, male physicians had to rely on diagrams and texts to interpret them, often with a singular focus on the reproductive system. Since men mostly wrote the books, the lexical and pictorial construction of the female body has therefore been historically, and literally, “written” by male authors.

So women, who were socially constrained by their female bodies and living in a man’s world, had to enact radical ways to modify their gender and even their very physiology. To gain authority, women had to be chaste, and to behave like men by adopting “masculine” characteristics. Such modifications might appear to compromise feminist, or proto-feminist, ambitions, but they were in fact sophisticated strategies to undermine or subvert the status quo.

Gender-play


Illuminated image from Hildegard of Bingen’s (1098-1179) Scivias, depicting her enclosed in a nun’s cell, writing. Wikimedia Commons

Medieval women who desired a voice in religious circles (the Church was, of course, the unelected power of the day) shed their femininity by adapting their bodies, the way that they used them, and therefore the way in which they were “read” by others. Through protecting their virginity, fasting, mortifying their flesh, perhaps reading, writing, or becoming physically enclosed in a monastery or anchorhold, they reoriented the way in which they were identified.

Joan of Arc (1412-1431) famously led an army to victory in the Hundred Years War dressed as a soldier, in a time when women were not supposed to fight.

Catherine of Siena (1347-1380), defying social codes of female beauty, shaved her hair in defiance of her parents’ wish to have her married. She later had a powerful mystical experience whereby she received the heart of Christ in place of her own; a visceral transformation which radically altered her body and identity.

And St Agatha (231-251), whose story was widely circulated in the Middle Ages, refused to give in to sexual pressure and was tortured, finally suffering the severing of her breasts. She has since been depicted as offering her breasts on a plate to Christ and the world. Agatha subverted her torturers’ aim, exploited her “de-feminised” self and instead offered her breasts as symbols of power and triumph.


Saint Agatha bearing her severed breasts on a platter, Piero della Francesca (c. 1460–70). Wikimedia Commons

Some scholars have even argued that monks and nuns were a considered a “third gender” in the Middle Ages: neither fully masculine nor feminine.

These flexible gender systems show how medieval people were perhaps more sophisticated in their conceptualisation of identity that we are today, when challenges to binary notions of gender are only now becoming widely discussed. Medieval codes of chastity might not be to most 21st-century tastes, but these powerful women-in-history took control of their own identification: found loopholes in the rules, found authority in their own self-fashioning.

The US presidential campaign has without doubt reinvigorated the politics of gender. Hillary Clinton has said: “If I want to knock a story off the front page, I just change my hairstyle”. It is easy to leap at such a comment, seeing Clinton as a media-sycophant, playing to the expectation that women are defined by their appearance. But in fact, like myriad women before her, Clinton was manipulating and exploiting the very rules that seek to define her.

Complete liberation this is not. Only when the long history of gender rules is challenged will powerful women no longer be compared to men. Like the response of Joan of Arc and her troops, it is surely now time for another call to arms: for the freedoms of tolerance, inclusion, equality and compassion. We must turn grief into optimism and words into action. To shatter not the dreams of girls around the world, but the glass ceilings that restrain them.

PhDing in a Foreign Land

Sam_Hayes_3colThinking of taking your PhD to somewhere else in the world? Sam Hayes shares his experiences organising and carrying out a research visit to Munich in the spring of 2015. Such a visit can feel quite daunting to arrange, but it’s well worth taking the plunge.

Just over a year ago I did what was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done: I got on a plane and set out to spend three months in another country to continue my PhD research and improve my foreign language skills. This was the longest I’ve ever spent abroad by myself, and I was shocked (and surprised) by how much I learned about myself while out there, and the personal challenges I faced. I thought that in this post I’d share some of those experiences to try and help any other research students out there looking to do some research abroad.

How to Get There

Possibly the most important thing on the list is to get where you want to go. This is a bit more complicated than just hopping on a plane; you’ll need to select a host institution, find a colleague to work with, and try to get any funding to cover your travel costs. This is actually a lot like choosing a PhD supervisor and institution, but with the added advantage that you’ll probably know more about your project at this stage (and you’re not burdened with your choice for the next three years).

I narrowed it down to two institutions, and decided on Munich in the end. This city has produced a bunch of Martial scholars who’ve heavily influenced the field, and the option to meet these people was too good to miss. The person I contacted at Munich also got back to me very quickly and although she couldn’t supervise me due to her being on sabbatical she put me in contact with a finishing PhD student of hers who was hugely helpful. The other institution… was less helpful, and the scholar I would have worked with was very busy. I went with my gut.

For funding I was lucky enough to have a fund specifically designed for AHRC students to travel with, but there are numerous institutions like the DAAD which regularly advertise this kind of travel scholarship. My advice would be to get everything sorted out a long time before you travel as deadlines can be quite tight (I didn’t apply to the DAAD in the end because of this). It might be worth considering waiting until the next funding round to get everything sorted in time. The Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität also helped source my accommodation for me (which was a godsend), but there are loads of good websites out there to help you out. Make sure to ask your local contact(s) for advice and support.

What to Do When You’re There (Academic)

The number 1 priority for me was to improve my reading and conversational German, but it’s also worth experiencing life and study in another country, as well as seeing what you can while you’re there.

I found improving my conversational German very difficult when I was in Munich because Germans tend to practice their (irritatingly good) English on you. If you discover that people find it easier to communicate with you in English I’d suggest finding a couple of people who are exceedingly patient to practice on (elderly landladies are perfect for this). I’d also recommend doing what I didn’t and joining an intensive language programme. They can be expensive, but the results speak volumes. The proudest moment of my stay was going grocery shopping for my landlady and managing the whole trip in German (frozen red cabbage was particularly hard!). After nearly a month and a half feeling like I couldn’t express myself it was moments like this that really boosted my confidence. My spoken German is still not perfect, but I’m so much faster than when I started, and my reading abilities have sky-rocketed. It’s worth being honest with the levels you can achieve while you’re there as well. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

You should also check out the institution while you’re there. Find out how their research culture works, how their undergraduates learn, and how they socialise. I found it a bit odd that there was a much sharper distinction between work time and free time (lots of very serious German faces 9-5, for instance), but the sense of community was stronger too. The more you can see and do the better. I also gave a research talk (in English) and got to meet several colleagues at this and other events (including those scholars I mentioned earlier). Make sure to make the most of the time you have, too – going over and chatting to some big-shot professor because you may never get another chance is a good idea, and you might well be the most interesting person in the room at this point too so knock yourself out. If all else fails you won’t be there long, anyway.

What to Do When You’re There (Non-Academic)

Don’t forget that this is still a trip. Travel! See the world! What’s the point of going hundreds of miles to simply sit in another dark room reading books and articles? The chances are you’ll have far too much spare time in a strange, new place anyway so you can always catch up on work in the quiet hours. The worst thing to do is just sit around feeling sorry for yourself – force yourself out of the front door and see the local sights, walk the block. See, feel, smell, hear, and taste the novelty. If you don’t when’s your next chance? What stories will you tell your envious friends at home when you get back?

I guarantee that travelling for part of your PhD can be one of the hardest parts of the doctorate, but it’s also been one of the most rewarding for me. I’ve met so many exciting new people, seen and experienced new things, and got to travel a bit more of Europe in the process. This is the most free you’ll ever be in your academic life, so go out there and, as a wise philosopher once put it, just do it.

Sam Hayes is a third year PhD student in Classics, specialising in Latin literature, at the University of Exeter. He hosts a blog (on which this piece originally appeared) at https://samhayesclassics.wordpress.com/ where he discusses aspects of his research and the overall PhD experience.

This blog has been reposted with permission of the author.

Researching Abroad

Researching abroad as part of PhD study is the topic covered in our latest episode of The Humanities PhD podcast. Listen below:

Being a Part of It: the Benefits of Being on a Committee

Do you like being part of your academic community? Do you feel that talking to people in your field is inspiring? Maybe you should be on a Committee…

Personally I find it really exciting when I get a chance to speak to people who really understand my subject. The best conversations are the ones where I get to talk about the specific issues at play in my wider field of performance and my narrower field of circus – the chance to talk about the specific issues at play is really exciting because of the connections it inspires and the feeling of being understood.

So, last year when the chance to join the Society for Theatre Research’s New Researcher’s Network  came up, it seemed a good opportunity. I had the chance to meet and work with like-minded people with the aim of trying to think about some of the ways we could make being a PGR or ECR in the field of performance easier.

For me it also represented something slightly different: an opportunity to bring my old professional life and my newer academic life into conversation. Previously I had been a marketer who ran events and managed communications, including social media. This set of skills was something that the NRN needed, so it felt like a good way to contribute something useful.

Since I joined the NRN I’ve worked with the other person responsible for social media and publicity to set up our own blog  focused on providing useful reflections on personal experiences of research eg the ‘I-wish-I’d-known-this-when-I-started’ or descriptions of moments that changed people’s perspectives on their research. I’ve also started to organise a symposium that has given me the chance to draw on personal connections for mutual benefit, eg publicising an archive I love and drawing on the expertise of some of my personal connections. There is also something interesting in observing how these types of organisation work.

I think this is probably the key to deciding if you want to be part of a committee like the NRN. You need to be prepared to give something as well as to work out what is in it for you. For me a lot of the experience I have had has been in a range of industries such as corporate events, civil engineering/construction services (sexy!) and the charity sector. Being a part of a field-specific committee has allowed me to use those skills and make them more relevant to the academic context I am now working in, whereas for you it might be gaining them for the first time. It has also widened my network to include some great people who I am now working with who I might not have met because are research doesn’t overlap – circus meets live-streaming/Shakespeare/early modern studies anyone?

You probably can identify something else hovering underneath all of this description. I think we have to be honest that part of what being on a committee involves is a wish to make your CV more desirable. Yes, that is definitely true, but you will only get the most out of it if you are also invested in giving something back. I’d definitely recommend doing it because you’ll meet some great people and have some inspiring conversations along the way.


Author’s Bio

Kate Holmes is based in the Drama department and is in the third year of a PhD on female aerial performers of the 1920s and early 1930s. For more information on Kate’s research please see her eprofile .

This Blog has been posted with the permission of the author.

 

How Ross Poldark was a victim of Cornwall’s changing industrial landscape

This post originally appeared on The Conversation. The article was written by Joseph Crawford, Lecturer in English. 

In July 2016, the BBC announced the commissioning of a third season of costume drama Poldark, months before the second series was even due to be broadcast. This represents an impressive vote of confidence in the series, especially as season two will apparently not be repeating the famous “topless scything” scene which won the National Television Awards’ prize for TV Moment of the Year.

Go West. BBC

Go West. BBC

The real pivotal moment depicted by Poldark, however, is one of historical change in south-west England. In the mid-18th century, Cornwall and Devon were major commercial and industrial centres. Cornwall’s tin and copper mines were some of the largest and most sophisticated in Europe, while the profits from the Cornwall and Devonshire wool trade helped make Exeter one of the biggest and richest cities in England.

By the mid-19th century however, much had changed. The rise of the mechanised cloth industry in England’s North and Midlands sent the south-western wool trade into serious decline. And while Cornwall’s mining industry survived well into the 20th century, it experienced repeated crises from the 1770s onwards. This was primarily due to newly discovered tin and copper mines elsewhere in the world, leading to the large-scale emigration of Cornish miners to countries such as Mexico, Australia and Brazil.

The era depicted in Poldark shows the region on the very tipping-point of this transition. Ross Poldark’s struggles to keep his mine open and profitable are symptomatic of the economic difficulties experienced by the region as a whole during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

As south-western towns lost their traditional role as centres of trade and industry, their focus shifted increasingly to tourism. This was especially true during the long years of the Napoleonic Wars which form the backdrop to the later Poldark novels. Cut off by war from their favoured resorts in France and Italy, a generation of English tourists began taking holidays in Devon and Cornwall instead.

By the late 18th century, writers in Devon were praising their native county for its natural beauty and its ancient history, rather than for the wealth and industry of which their parents and grandparents had been so proud. By the mid-19th century, the same was increasingly true of Cornwall.

This economic shift led, in turn, to the development of the Victorian mythology of the “romantic South-West”, still beloved of local tourist boards today.

This mythology is built upon a version of the region’s history which emphasises its remote and wild character, playing on associations with Merlin and King Arthur, druids and witches, smugglers and wreckers and pirates.

Like most costume dramas, Poldark’s primary concern is with the travails of cross-class romance. But it is also a narrative about de-industrialisation, and about the struggle of local businesses to remain competitive and economically viable within an increasingly globalised economy – a story which has some resonance in early 21st-century Britain.

The poverty of the Cornish miners with whom Ross Poldark identifies is not simply the result of gratuitous oppression. Instead they are the victims of a new economic order which has little interest in preserving local industry for its own sake.

Wild West

The show has certainly not been shy about making lavish use of the beauty of its Cornish setting, and has already triggered something of a tourism boom, with visitors flocking to the region to see for themselves the moors, cliffs, and beaches which Poldark employs to such dramatic visual effect.

But it also depicts the historical struggles of the region’s inhabitants to preserve the South West as something more than just a pretty place for other people to visit on holiday. In this sense, it is rather symbolic that season one of Poldark ends with Ross being falsely accused of wrecking. The legend of the Cornish wreckers, which reached its definitive form in Du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn, is founded on extremely slender historical evidence, but it persists because it fits in so neatly with the Victorian mythology of the South West in general, and Cornwall in particular: a mythology which viewed it as a lawless and desperate land, filled with crime and adventure, and remote from all true civilisation.

In Poldark, the looting of the wrecked vessel is motivated by hunger and poverty, which have in turn been caused by the economic depression besetting the region. But after spending the whole season struggling against Cornwall’s industrial decline, Ross finds himself in danger of being absorbed into a new kind of narrative about the South West – one which will have no place for men like him, except as picturesque savages.

Of course, in this respect, Poldark rather wants to both have its grain and (shirtlessly) reap it, too. Ross Poldark and Demelza appeal to their audience precisely because they embody the kind of romantic wildness which, since the Victorian era, has been the stock-in-trade of the south-western tourist industry.

They are passionate, free-spirited, and dismissive of class boundaries and social conventions: hardly the kind of people that the self-consciously respectable merchants and industrialists of the 18th-century South West would have wanted as their representatives or champions. But by setting its story of class antagonism against the backdrop of this crucial turning-point in the history of the South West, Poldark does serve as a reminder that the quietness of the region, which has proven so attractive to generations of tourists, is not the natural state of a land untouched by commerce or industry. It is the silence which follows their enforced departure.

Experimental Archaeology: Neanderthal Spear Technology

PhD student Alice La Porta is undertaking archaeological experiments on the nature Neanderthal spear use this summer as part of her PhD project on Middle Palaeolithic stone tool projectile technology. Read all about her research below!

Did Neanderthal use stone-tipped wooden spears as throwing hunting weapons?

Fig 1 Alice and friends

Alice la Porta during the first set of experiments (summer 2015), at Aöza Open-air Museum during the “Mesolithic Living” project.

In Europe, a small number of wooden spears have been found in archaeological contexts from the Lower and Middle Palaeolithic (c. 1,200,000-40,000 years ago), such as at Schöningen, Clacton and Lehringen. The first suggestion that such spears had stone tips comes in the European Middle Palaeolithic, the time of the Neanderthals, in the form of distinctive stone points, also called Levallois or Mousterian points. But how can we be certain that these stone points were used by Neanderthals as spear-heads for their wooden spears? Analysing the utilization wear and the impact fractures present on the surfaces of modern, experimentally-used spear-tips and archaeological stone points, using optical and digital microscopes, is one approach to inferring the prehistoric uses of these tools.

A big question in any discussion of Middle Palaeolithic spears is…how were Neanderthals using their stone-tipped wooden spears? Where Neanderthals throwing their spears or were they using them as close-range thrusting weapons? It has previously been argued that, while Neanderthal populations may have used stone-tipped wooden spears, these were rudimentary thrusting weapons. However the differences between throwing and thrusting spear delivery systems are still poorly understood for the earlier Palaeolithic, both in terms of spear performance and concerning the traces left behind on the spear tips. This partly reflects the limited range of experiments which had, until recently, been undertaken.

Fig 2 spear throw

First set of experiments (summer 2015), at Aöza Open-air Museum during the “Mesolithic Living” project.

Building on previous archaeological experiments, and drawing on ethnographic observations, I am conducting a series of weaponry experiments within my PhD research project. The experiments aim to test the performances of replica Middle Palaeolithic stone-tipped wooden spears, and explore the differences in the resulting wear and breakage patterns that can be seen on the thrown and thrusted spears.

The experiments  have  been  funded  by  the  UK’s  South  West  and  Wales  Doctoral  Training Partnership (SWW DTP), the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), and the University of Exeter. They are taking place at Aöza Open-air Museum “Steinzeitpark Dithmarschen” (Albersdorf, Germany) within the OpenArch/EXARC partnership. The support of all of these organisations is very gratefully acknowledged.

Author’s Bio:

Alice La Porta is a second year PhD student in the Archaeology department studying stone tools in the Middle Palaeolithic. She is funded by the AHRC South West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership under the supervision of Linda Hurcombe and Rob Hosfield (University of Reading).

This piece originally appeared on the Archaeology Department blog (http://blogs.exeter.ac.uk/archaeology/2016/07/05/experimental-archaeology-neanderthal-spear-technology/)

 

Reflections on the Digital Humanities 2016 conference at Krakow

This article was originally posted on the Digital Humanities at Exeter blog and is reproduced with kind permission.

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Digitising using the conservation cradle in the Special Collections

Hannah Petrie reflects on her time spent at the Digital Humanities 2016 conference at Krakow in Poland.

This was my first time attending the annual Digital Humanities conference, and it’s certainly the biggest conference I’ve ever attended. We were told that at final count, there were 902 delegates from 45 different countries (to put it in perspective, the Digital Humanities congress that I attended in Sheffield in 2014 had 100 delegates). I went along with four of my colleagues from our Digital Humanities team in Exeter and one PhD student.

The main lecture theatre that we congregated in for the plenaries was impressively huge, and must have seated around 1200 people. The scale of the conference was reflected by the number of parallel sessions on offer. Eleven sessions ran concurrently throughout most of the conference, meaning that each one involved a difficult decision. Checking Storify feeds of tweet highlights from the conference, I felt like there was at least another conference-worth of additional material. I sometimes wanted to attend two or three sessions that were running at the same time, and wished that some of the sessions could have been recorded so that we could listen to the ones we missed afterwards.

Workshops
As well as the conference, my colleagues and I had also registered for a number of workshops, which took place in the two days before the conference began. The workshops I chose gave me an introduction to using the tools GAMS and Cirilo to deposit and archive research documents; using Voyant Tools for text analysis, so that you can instantly generate wordclouds and other useful tools to tell you about word use in your corpus; and how to create a simulation using R, but also how to think through the scenario effectively before you even begin coding. It was a lot to take in but was also a good opportunity to meet people in smaller groups.

Conference
For the main conference, I ended up going to a lot of the talks on analysing and using new media, and also dipping into the stylometry, scholarly editions and mapping tracks. Some of the discussions and visualisations I saw afterwards on Twitter looked fascinating too, with the diversity panels in particular generating a lot of interest. There was so much on offer that you always had to miss out on something, but between us, our team tried to make sure that we went to as many different parallel sessions as possible.

I was presenting a short paper with my colleague Charlotte Tupman on the Thursday [abstract], so on the Wednesday afternoon before the poster session, we found a vacant lecture theatre and took some time to go over our presentation and to make sure that our slides worked. It was a useful precaution, because we found that our live demo didn’t look quite right on the big screen because of the aspect ratio, so we were able to record a screencast instead.

Our poster
My colleague Graham Fereday had a poster accepted on the subject of 3D scanning for preservation [abstract], and was presenting at the poster slam. The poster was a joint effort between Graham and our colleagues Mick Mullins, Rich Webb and Gary Stringer. At the slam, everyone had 4 minutes maximum to present their posters to the group. Again, this was on a huge scale, with 4 simultaneous sessions, each with around 20 presenters – and these were just the people who had opted to present. At the reception later, posters were roughly organised by subject into 26 groups. We had the opportunity to wander round each stall and talk to the creators. It was quite an efficient way to make connections with people who had similar research interests to you. People came to speak to Graham about 3D scanning and techniques and we made links that may not otherwise have been formed.

Our presentation
Our presentation went off without a hitch on Thursday, and there was a much larger audience than I thought we might have. People seemed attentive and several tweeted about our paper.

We had some very useful feedback and discussions as a result of delivering the paper, and I discovered that presenting wasn’t as daunting as I’d been worried about: everyone was very friendly and encouraging.

Finishing up
Claire Warwick’s keynote talk on digital information design marked the closing ceremony and gave us a lot of food for thought. She posited the library as a physical interface for accessing information and asked what this might mean for our access of digital information, which doesn’t have a physical presence in the same way. She illustrated how we navigate physical resources, such as being able to remember the position on the page of a particular sentence, or being able to walk back to the shelf on which you found a particular book, simply don’t apply for digital. The conclusion was that we should accept that digital is different and we should try to make it work in its own way.

I found it interesting to hear that many students much preferred working in the library to anywhere else, even if they brought their own device and weren’t using any of the physical resources from the library, because it was the space that they associated with work and that they felt was important.

It was announced at the closing ceremony that DH 2017 would be held in Montreal, Canada. The news about the accessibility of next year’s conference was welcomed enthusiastically, and the promise of a virtual stream is also a step in the right direction for such a large conference. We had better get practising our French too, as it will be bilingual.

Next year, I’d like to see the conference embrace the digital even more, with a mobile-friendly programme online, the ability to create a personalised schedule, and a list of all conference attendees and their institutions, so you could look up people’s contact information after you meet them.

At the banquet on the final night, I was presented with my ADHO bursary award along with all of the other winners. There seemed to be a lot of us and it’s hoped there will be even more next year. In the final networking opportunity of the conference, we sat next to delegates from Finland, Germany and The Netherlands.

Aside from the bustle of the conference, we also got to explore the city in our free time. We took a walk down by the river one evening and discovered the statue of the dragon near the castle, which surprised us by breathing real fire when we walked by. I managed to find Massolit Bookshop, which a friend had described to me as his favourite bookshop in Europe. We even had the chance to explore the famous salt mines at Wieliczka on the day we arrived. On the last evening we waited by St. Mary’s Basilica tower in central square for the trumpeter who appears there every hour on the hour, day and night. According to local legend, the trumpet call ends abruptly as a tribute the famous trumpeter who was shot in the throat with an arrow in the 13th-century, when sounding the alarm before the Mongol attack on the city. Despite our scepticism the trumpeter showed up right on time, and played the Hejnał Mariacki at each of the 4 tower windows. And then it was time to say goodbye to Kraków and begin our journey back home.


Hannah Petrie works in Digital Humanities Archives and Documentation in the College’s Digital Humanities Team. Her expertise includes working with archived data, documenting research projects on the web, and text encoding with TEI. She is currently contributing to an XQuery- and XSLT-based text archive system as part of an AHRC research project. She was awarded an ADHO early career bursary, which enabled her to attend this conference. She attended this conference along with five of her colleagues from Exeter: Gary Stringer, Charlotte Tupman, Graham Fereday and Rich Holding from the Digital Humanities team, and PhD student Richard Graham.

Rock/Body: A new research network

Rock Body

Photo courtesy of Isabel Pina Ferreira and Lizzy Burt

Dr João Florêncio explores questions raised as part of Rock/Body, an AHRC-funded project for which he is the Principal Investigator.

If asked about the similarities and possible continuities between the geologic world and the human body, most people will probably shrug and leave it at that, probably with a sense of disbelief on the value of the question just thrown at them: what would such disparate realms have in common? Why would one be interested in thinking together rocks—perceived as hard, static, dead, ever-lasting—and human bodies—seen as living, fleshy, organic, perishable, and capable of affects?

However, when paid closer look, geologic and human bodies begin to appear somewhat porous to one another. Think about calcium, for instance. Produced by the stars, it entered the composition of rocky planets like the Earth, where it became constituent part of sedimentary rocks. However, calcium is also very soluble in water and thus makes the jump into the animal food chain where it becomes a crucial element for the mineralisation of teeth and bones as well as some cellular processes. Without calcium—arriving from the stars to the rocks to the water to the food you eat–you wouldn’t be able to stand, let alone dare to walk.

Besides life’s dependence on minerals, geologic and human bodies have also been brought closer together thanks to two other events of a totally different kind (recent ones, if we consider them in relation to the wider history of the Earth). Those events—industrialisation and capitalism—unfolded through the exploitation, on the one hand, of geological resources such as coal and, on the other, human resources in the form of labour time. It was coal that powered James Watt’s steam engine; and it was human labour that extracted the coal to feed the industrial revolution. The burning out of rocks and bodies were essential for the accumulation of capital. And they keep on being so even today when our smartphones, tablets, and “cloud computing” interfaces—so cleanly conceived and designed they appear eons away from the smog and black lung of the industrial revolution—are still dependent on the mining of rare metals mostly taking place in developing countries and which are necessary to support the circuit boards, servers, and communication cables upon which our fetishised gadgets depend. Further, it is also often developing countries that are paid to import the e-waste produced when our smart machines reach their planned obsolescence and dispose of it. What do these stories tell about different kinds of human bodies and their relationships with metal and other geological resources at a time when one could be forgiven for thinking the world has freed itself from matter and become primarily quantified and understood in terms of data and Mbps (Megabytes per second)?

SingleRock_Colour_1000px

Image courtesy of Isabel Pina Ferreira and Lizzy Burt

As such, if we consider the porosity of the geologic and the human to one another, highlighted by millions of years of circulation and storage of minerals between rocks and living bodies and back again; and if we accept that both rocks and human bodies have a shared history of exploitation under capitalism, in what ways can these overlaps—these blurry areas where rock becomes (human) body becomes rock—open new pathways for collaborative research projects across disciplinary borders that have divided modern academia between sciences, humanities, and arts? What kinds of questions can a focus on these areas of ontological fuzziness bring about if the geologic and the human appear to no longer hold clearly defined boundaries separating the one from the other? And what can it do for the ways in which we make sense of ourselves and our place in the world at a time when the planet is changing so rapidly, environmentally, socially, politically?

In order to start probing these questions, Lancaster University’s Professor Nigel Clark and I have brought together a diverse group of scientists, humanities scholars, and artists under Rock/Body, an AHRC-funded research networking project. Departing from the belief that the scope and implications of the issues at hand cannot be safely contained within the traditional boundaries of a single discipline—or of various disciplines working without permeability to one another—the participants in the network have been meeting since April for a series of three research seminars where each researcher has been contributing their own thoughts on the interfacings of the geologic with the human body.

Organised around three sub-themes—Flesh/Minerality, Extraction/Exhaustion, and Time/Duration—the seminars bring together artists, curators, social scientists, earth scientists, and humanities scholars in order to start enacting much-needed cross-disciplinary dialogues and, from there, sketch future research partnerships.

The project will culminate at Exeter in September with an exhibition of artworks by participating artists and the presentations of a new site-specific performance piece conceived in response to the seminar discussions and the Exeter landscape.


FAT_6918_JoaoFlorencioDr Joao Florencio is a Lecturer in History of Modern and Contemporary Art and Visual Culture. He holds a BA from the Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal, an MA with Distinction from the University of Greenwich, and a PhD from Goldsmiths, University of London.